Poverty and lack of health care go together. UNICEF reported that about 19,000 children under age five die each day from preventable causes, mostly in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. Globally people are living longer with the exception of Africa where health risks that are decreasing in other areas are still major problems, including infectious diseases, childhood illnesses and maternal death.[i] Although health care is expanding and the Millennial Generation is generally healthier than their parents’ generation, youth face health hazards from AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases, malaria, illegal drug use, suicide, wars, malnutrition, and unclean water that could be eradicated with enough funding. Leaders of developing countries go to developed nations for health care when they get sick, not trusting their own hospitals.
Poverty leads to stunted growth of children, illiteracy, and lower survival rate for girls, a great waste of potential talent. Girls suffer most from poverty because families allocate scarce resources to boys’ health care and education. Traditional patriarchal biases against females aren’t limited to poor rural villagers, as shown by the selective abortion of girls in well-to-do Indian and Chinese families.
UNICEF reports that 21,000 children die each day from preventable causes. They die before their fifth birthday of pneumonia, malaria, diarrhea and other diseases.[ii] Diarrhea and pneumonia are preventable diseases, but are the biggest causes of death of young children. UNICEF reports that more than 1.4 million children die each year due to unsafe drinking water. The 2030 Water Resources Group predicts that the world may face up to a 40% gap between demand and supply of water by 2030 as the middle class expands in developing nations.
The World Bank estimates that it would cost $10 billion to save 2 million children’s lives a year. In contrast, world military spending was $1.74 trillion in 2011, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.[iii] The US spent around $500 billion in a decade of fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to costofwar.com. Although most world religions teach the virtues of helping the poor, there’s a gap between belief and action to ensure that all children grow up healthy and well educated with an equal start.
But money doesn’t guarantee health. Even though the US spends more on health care than other countries, Americans are less healthy than people in comparable countries and have a shorter life expectancy, according to a report by the US National Research Council and the Institute of Medicine.[iv] A Harvard study found that 45,000 deaths a year are attributable to not having health insurance and the medical care that could have prevented death. The US also loses more years of life to alcohol and other drugs than other wealthy countries. Many of these health problems disproportionately affect children and adolescents. US teens have the highest rate of pregnancies of affluent countries and are more likely to have sexually transmitted diseases. Deaths from injuries and homicides are higher than in comparable countries, as is obesity.
Poverty is an issue in developed countries, as about 13 million children in the EU, 16 million in the US, and 30 million children in 35 developed countries live in relative poverty, as reported in UNICEF’s Report Card 10.[v] The Scandinavian countries are at the top of the list of well-being in prosperous countries as usual, and the bottom five with the most poverty are Spain, Bulgaria, Latvia, the US, and Romania. A 2012 UNICEF study reported that the US has the second- highest rate of child poverty in the developed world with an alarming rate of 23% (Romania has the highest rate) and the second-highest rate of teen pregnancy (Mexico has the highest).[vi] Rates of child diabetes and asthma are rising, along with consumption of junk food and sugary drinks.
Obesity levels doubled in every region of the world between 1980 and 2008, contributing to increased rates of diseases such as cancer and diabetes, according to the World Health Organization.[vii] The WHO reported that the obesity rate doubled in the last three decades, joining smoking as a main cause of chronic disease. At least 700 million people will be obese by 2015. The highest obesity rates are in English-speaking countries and Mexico.[viii]
Almost 17% of children in the US are obese, as are almost 7% of children globally; the problem aggregated by the spread of US fast food. The health costs associated with about 12 million obese American children are huge, including the increase of diabetes. Childhood obesity rates have climbed in the US for 30 years, with the exception of cities like New York City, Philadelphia and Los Angeles that developed programs with standards for healthy foods in school cafeterias. Overeating junk food and lack of exercise contribute to the fact that American men ranked at the bottom of life expectancy and women only one step from the bottom in a 2011 study of 17 industrialized nations. The gap has widened in the past three decades rather than improved.[ix]
In the US, this may be the first generation of children to be less healthy than their parents as 18% of children are obese. Soft drinks are the top source of calories. These problems and some solutions are explored in an HBO documentary The Weight of the Nation, which estimates that less than 1% of Americans meet the eight criteria for cardiovascular wellness (weight, cholesterol, exercise, etc.). The one in five children who live in poverty face health challenges and this poverty rate has gone up by 50% since 1973, especially in black families.[x] As a consequence, the health costs to the US are $150 billion a year, half of it paid for by government health care.
Global teens start sexual activity earlier than in traditional times as marriage age is rising, exposing them to risk of AIDS and other STDs. Around 40% of the world’s new HIV infections occur in young people ages 15 to 24, due to ignorance and lack of condoms and medication. An estimated 2.2 million adolescents are infected with HIV, about 60% of them are girls and 1.8 million are in Sub-Saharan Africa.[xi] Many young people don’t know how to avoid the HIV virus, especially in rural areas. Betha, a 17-year-old Kenyan girl, has a naïve solution; “I would change the mode of dressing to ensure that there is no rape to decrease the spread of HIV/AIDS.”
[i] “Global and Regional Mortality,” Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, December, 2012.
[iv] “Americans Have Worse Health Than People in Other High-Income Countries,”National Academy of Sciences, January 9, 2013.
[v] May 2012.
[vi] Saki Knafo, “US Child Poverty Second Highest Among Developed Nations,” Huff Post, May 30, 2012. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/30/us-child-poverty-report-unicef_n_1555533.html#slide=1028865
If current trends continue, the Earth could warm by 4 degrees Celsius in 50 years, according to a World Bank report. The danger zone will happen when atmospheric concentrations of CO2 reaches 450 parts per million. It is now at over 400, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
[vii] Simeon Barnett, “Global Obesity, Hypertension Rates Rise, WHO Says,” Bloomberg.com, May 16, 2012.
[viii] “Why Are 6 of Top 7 Fattest Countries English-Speaking Ones?” Medical News Today, September 24, 2010.
[ix] Jim Toedtman, “Face the Mortality Gap,” AARP Bulletin, March 2013.
[x] Paul Buchheit, “For Shame, Wealthy America,” Buzzflash, February 11, 2013.
[xi] “Progress For Children: A Report Card on Adolescents,” No. 10, UNICEF, April 2012, p. 23.